'Monsters at Work' Feels Like Punching In for a Job Created by Pete Docter

Starring Ben Feldman, Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Mindy Kaling, Henry Winkler
'Monsters at Work' Feels Like Punching In for a Job Created by Pete Docter
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Monsters, Inc. (2001) and its prequel Monsters University (2013) aren't quite top-tier Pixar, but they're still an impeccable piece of world-building from the beloved animation studio. The Disney+ series Monsters at Work returns audiences to that same universe but without anything new to add, making this an unremarkable journey through ideas we've already seen done better before.

Monsters at Work isn't quite a full-blown Pixar production. (To get technical for a moment: Disney is credited as the producer, while Pixar gets a "based on characters created by" mention. Pixar exec Pete Docter is billed as the show's creator.) But regardless of which names appear in the credits, it's impossible not to compare this show to the hilarious, heartfelt films that preceded it.

While Pixar's best works toe the line between comedy and tragedy, Monsters at Work is an aggressively cheerful workplace comedy about Tylor (voiced by Superstore's Ben Feldman), a newly hired "scarer" who joins the company at the very moment the Monsters, Inc. factory switches from screams to laugher (as seen in the first movie).

Tylor suddenly finds himself lacking the proper skillset for the job, and he is shuffled into the maintenance division MIFT (Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team). He dreams of working his way up to the Laugh Floor, which is overseen by newly appointed bosses Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman), who audiences will remember from the prior films.

For a show that's literally about generating laughs, Monsters at Work simply isn't very funny. Tylor's coworkers Val (Mindy Kaling) and Fritz (Henry Winkler) attempt to compensate for a lack of punchlines with sheer over-the-top energy, while Tylor's wide-eyed enthusiasm makes him essentially a rewrite of cycloptic Monsters, Inc. star Mike. A drawn-out gag where he drops a bolt — leading to blank stares and awkwardness from his coworkers — feels like a lazy rehash of every deadpan Pixar joke ever. Even the animation is a little lacklustre, as it has a smudged, cartoonish quality next to gorgeous recent visual spectacles like Soul.

Monsters at Work is upbeat enough to be a half-decent retread of the first two Monsters movies. But, as with lesser Pixar sequels like The Incredibles 2, the results feels like family-friendly fan service — a way to cram Disney+ with more content, regardless of whether there is a new story to tell. One can imagine that making this series probably felt a bit like showing up for work at MIFT: not the most inspiring project, but, hey, it's a job. (Disney)